THE NEOLIBERALS: Creating the New American Politics by Randall Rothenberg

THE NEOLIBERALS: Creating the New American Politics

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 set a lot of Democrats to thinking, and the inevitable result was ""neoliberalism""--a new, pragmatic approach to America's problems that would cut the Democrats loose from their big-government, big-spending past. Rothenberg, a magazine writer, admits that it's a little hard to say what a neoliberal is. So he lists who they are: Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, Morton Kondrake (of the New Republic), Charles Peters (editor of the Washington Monthly), Lester Thurow, Bill Bradley, Robert Reich. What Rothenberg thinks they share is a commitment to industrial policy--a policy of directed investment, principally through tax policy, to spur economic growth via new technology and new markets--that also entails cost-effective military reform, increased science teaching and technological training, labor/management cooperation rather than confrontation, and some notion of compulsory national service. The neoliberals, by this reading, are afraid of the Russians and the Japanese, and want to effectively compete with both. But Rothenberg isn't any more effective than they are at making sense of all this. To show that Gary Hart's proposal of a consumption tax--on the difference between earnings and savings or investment--isn't clearly liberal or conservative, Rothenberg notes that it originated with the very conservative William Simon. Showing just how it isn't regressive is a lot harder, and not accomplished here. Neither does Rothenberg's generally glowing review of the neoliberals prepare the reader for his observation, in a concluding chapter, that ""if one thing rings false in all the rhetoric of neoliberalism, it is that the 'national interest' may be nothing more than the special interests of the upper middle class."" For a coherent treatment of the underlying political forces, see Thomas Byrne Edsall's The New Politics of Inequality (p. 391).

Pub Date: June 15th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster